The Gary Francis Powers Incident


The U2A built by Lockheed

On May 1, 1960, the pilot of an American U-2 spy plane was shot down while flying through Soviet airspace. The fallout over the incident resulted in the cancellation of the Paris Summit scheduled to discuss the ongoing situation in divided Germany, the possibility of an arms control or test ban treaty, and the relaxation of tensions between the USSR and the United States.

USSR rejects Eisenhower’s “Open Skies” plan

As early as 1955, officials in both Moscow and Washington had grown concerned about the relative nuclear capabilities of the Soviet Union and the United States. Given the threat that the nuclear arms race posed to national security, leadership in both countries placed a priority on information about the other side’s progress. At a conference in Geneva in 1955, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower proposed an “open skies” plan, in which each country would be permitted to make overflights of the other to conduct mutual aerial inspections of nuclear facilities and launchpads.

Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev refused the proposal, continuing the established Soviet policy of rejecting international inspections in any form. Meanwhile, Khrushchev also claimed that the Soviet Union had developed numerous intercontinental ballistic missiles, which only motivated the United States Government to look for new ways to verify developments in the Soviet nuclear program.

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